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William Plomer (1903–73), a self-described Anglo-Afro-Asian novelist, poet, editor and librettist, spent only the early years of his lengthy career as a Hogarth Press author but still ranks as one of the Woolfs’ most prolific writers, with a total of nine titles issued during his seven years with the Press. Like Katherine Mansfield, Plomer made his mark with Hogarth before signing with a more established firm, but the depth and breadth of Plomer’s career with the Woolfs is significantly greater: his five volumes of fiction presented Hogarth’s readers with groundbreaking portraits of South African, Japanese and (British) working class cultures. In 1933 Plomer moved to Jonathan Cape, though he continued publishing poetry with Hogarth, both in his own volumes and in John Lehmann’s collections, into the 1940s. Beginning in 1937, Plomer replaced the famed Edward Garnett as Cape’s editorial adviser, serving in that capacity for the remainder of his career.1 Though perhaps now best known, especially in Britain, for the finely crafted verse of his later years, Plomer is a noteworthy figure in new histories of modernism for his role in the international scope of that movement. In this essay I focus primarily on Plomer’s South African fiction, especially Turbott Wolfe (1926) and ‘Ula Masondo’ (1927), two incisive portraits of racialisation’s effects on both black and white subjects, aimed at a British reading public. While his later Hogarth novels, Sado (1931) and The Case Is Altered (1932), may seem to lack the experimental dynamism of Turbott Wolfe, I locate their underlying social subversiveness through queer narratological readings. Finally, I relate Plomer’s career with the Woolfs to their own transition from a coterie Bloomsbury hand press to a ‘proper publishing business’ by the 1930s, in Leonard’s words (Downhill 68).


This book chapter first appeared in the 2010 book In Leonard and Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press, and the Networks of Modernism, and is reprinted with permission.

The book can be located at

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